“Our entire lives are based around the military, in the military experience,” Iraq vet and transgender advocate Laila Ireland, 31, tells PEOPLE of herself and her husband, Air Force staff Sgt. Logan Ireland, who is also transgender. “Financially, emotionally, intellectually, everything that you can think of involves the military. For the news to drop so suddenly, it took us by surprise and it’s so disheartening to see.”
The couple was caught off guard last week when Trump, 71, sent out a string of tweets in which he said that “tremendous medical costs” among transgender personnel would burden the military.
Laila joined the military in 2003 and served as a combat nurse for 12 years — serving two tours in Iraq — before leaving the military in 2015. She began transitioning from male to female in 2012 and met Logan, 29, then. Both began transitioning during their time in the military.
Now, Laila says she and Logan have paused their plans to start a family because “we don’t know what our future holds.”
“Logan wanted to be commissioned to become an officer and personal stuff like having children, adopting children and making sure that we are set financially so that we’re ready to adopt children,” she says. “But for now all of that is put on the back burner, because we have to take care of ourselves first before we can even raise a family.”
She adds: “So it doesn’t just affect our career, it affects everything else in our lives. We can’t necessarily look forward and plan if we don’t know what our foundation looks like.”
Laila, who works with SPARTA, an advocacy group for transgender military service members, said last week that no immediate orders had been issued to implement the policy. She added that service members she has spoken with said they have received support from their higher-ups.
“Our job is not to criticize the government or the president,” she tells PEOPLE. “Our job is just to keep the mission going and make sure it’s done. But it’s tough to have to balance that and continue the mission when they’re not seeing you as a person. Or if they say your service is obsolete.”
Just hours after the news broke, Logan told PEOPLE exclusively that he’d “love” to meet with President Trump and discuss the implications of the new ban.
“For the President to deny an able-bodied, fully qualified person the inherent right to raise their right hand and serve their country, potentially giving their own life for our freedoms, is doing this country an injustice,” Logan said.
Laila and Logan have long been vocal about trans rights in the military, and were previously profiled in a 2015 New York Times op-ed documentary.
In the documentary, the couple expressed that they had been met with acceptance and support by fellow service members, though at the time, military policy banned transgender people from openly serving.
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Last year, the Pentagon lifted that ban, and in the months since, Laila says everything has been “going smoothly.”
“Trans people have been serving honorably for decades,” she tells PEOPLE. “It’s a double-edged sword. I’m both saddened and frightened and disheartened by , but at the same time I’m more determined than I have ever been before to make sure that we win this fight.”